The Best Mentally Stimulating Toys That Entertain Your Dogs
A bored dog is never a happy dog—and without the appropriate outlets for their boredom, it could prompt destructive behaviors. When your dog has a lot of time on their paws, they might act out by barking, destroying furniture, or moping around the house. Physical exercise can help burn pent-up energy, but even if you take your dog on long walks and play fetch on a daily basis, this might not be enough to stave off idle restlessness.
To combat boredom, mental stimulation is important in equal measure. One of the best ways to engage your pup is to offer them toys that keep their mind active and provide them with a job to tackle head-on. Your dog may be content with a bone, a rope, or a stick, but if you want to provide them with longer stretches of entertainment, mentally stimulating toys can keep them engaged and happy.
Not only do these toys have the instantaneous benefit of reducing boredom and the unwanted behaviors that come with it, experts have also reported that they have long-term effects. Over the long run, providing your dog with something to engage them curbs anxiety and antisocial tendencies. If you own an older pet, it’s said that mentally stimulating toys can keep their minds sharp, too.
From treat-dispensing rubber toys and snuffle mats to interactive feeding bowls and lick mats, there is a wide selection of mentally stimulating toys available today. Many of these toys offer treats as a reward, which make them all the more enticing to dogs. To reap the reward, dogs have to engage with the toy and put their IQ skills to the test.
With so many options on the market though, it’s important to find one that is suitable for your canine’s skill level. It should neither be too easy nor too hard, but just right. The best choice for your dog will provide just enough of a challenge without aggravating them. If your dog is new to mentally stimulating toys, you might want to start with an easy option, like a treat-stuffed toy or a licking mat, then work your way up.
Many of these toys are a wonderful way to keep your dog preoccupied when you’re busy, but they can also work for mealtimes. For instance, you can feed your canine their meals with an interactive feeding bowl or a snuffle mat. This puts their minds to work while they eat. As a welcome bonus, it keeps dogs trim and healthy, too. With all this in mind, here are a few of our favorite mentally stimulating toys.
1. Lick Mats
This lick mat doesn’t just provide dogs with a pleasurable distraction when they’re bored, it can also be used during mealtimes to help slow them down while they eat. Just smear wet food or a spreadable treat, like peanut butter, onto the mat. You can even prolong the fun by sticking the mat in the freezer to harden the food. The mat is made of a flexible material that is dishwasher-safe, making clean-up a cinch, too.
2. Snuffle Mats
A level up from a licking mat, this snuffle mat encourages your dog’s foraging skills. The mat has thick strands that are made out of recycled shirts, and make a wonderful hiding place for kibble and dry treats. Your dog has to use their nose to sniff out the food between the strands. You can scatter it over the strands, but if your pup is up for the challenge, you can tuck it deeper between the mat’s fabric strips. You can even use it as a slow feeder to keep your canine from wolfing down their food. As a welcome bonus, the mat is machine-washable, too.
Curious to see it at work? See Maddie’s review of the mat here.
3. Food Tube Puzzle
If you’re a beginner to DIY projects, you might like this YouTube tutorial. Better yet, it only requires kitchen or toilet paper rolls, an empty shoe box, plus some food. First, stand the paper rolls in the shoe box, then sprinkle kibble or treats into each of the cardboard tubes. The last step? Watch your dog have at it!
4. Interactive Dog Bowls
This interactive dog bowl offers the best combination of a feeding bowl and a puzzle toy. When you fill the bowl with kibble or treats, the bowl rocks, rolls, and moves around as your dog tries to retrieve food from inside it. This process encourages them to use their brains, and not only that, prevents bloating, vomiting, and other overeating-related issues. The bowl is suitable for small to large pups, and can hold up to four cups of food at a time. As a plus, it’s easy to clean. Just disassemble the bowl and throw it into the dishwasher.
5. Treat-Dispensing Rubber Chew Toys
Made out of a sturdy rubber material, this chew toy can hold up to strong jaws without harming your dog’s teeth. You can hide kibble, canned food, or your dog’s favorite spreadable treat inside the soda can-shaped toy. It can even be used during mealtimes, so they can learn to slow down and enjoy their food. It provides just enough of a challenge to keep dogs engaged, and comes in medium and large sizes, making it suitable for most breeds.
6. Muffin Tin Puzzles
Another project that uses only a few objects—namely, a muffin tin and tennis balls—this YouTube tutorial is easy to follow and even easier to execute on the fly. Just hide kibble or treats in each of the empty muffin cups, then cover the tins with tennis balls. Afterward, your dog will have to nudge the balls out of the way to retrieve the treat.